Education fails in this country. By saying this, I know that I join the self-appointed Cassandraans leaders who throw our hands up to our boilers and sing a nations death. But its true.
And most of the Wailers miss the point. Underlying the political agendas, the financing struggles, the cultural war and the simultaneous respect for and outrageous expectations of teachers, there is a much deeper failure.
Think for a moment in your life when you got stuck in learning something. At that moment, it was not about facts, tests or grades that succeeded or failed. Instead, it was an alarming, joyous explosion of energy and pleasure to finally discover something. To understand something. Borrowing from Shakespeare was an occurrence of godlike grip, understanding of our place as a partner in a creative universe.
How often have you had a moment in your education process? If you are like most, quite rarely. Somewhere along the line, the education became a consumerist rapprochement of collective skills and factoids and spewing them back to the world as gambling geeks. But when we get processed databases, we lose the analytical abilities that prevent us from being obsessed with systems (whether they are political, religious, social or media) without disturbing us if they should be at all. We all got out of the box and put on the table, but we have no picture to follow.
And thats what we miss: the picture. Picture. The show. Our failure is an imagination, both in what we learn and how we learn, but also, more importantly, that we do not understand that education is ultimately about imagination.
As we become imaginary teachers, we pass beyond passive collectors of information to creators. We find the enchantment, the poetics to learn, and we can imagine the whole universe being. Learning becomes a spiraling generative process that invites us to continue to learn and shape ourselves and our worlds.
So how would an imaginary education look like? Part of its beauty, and admittedly, its complexity is that there is no answer. It is an invitation for each student to understand and the world around her as a classroom. Its about inviting you to be your partner and constantly asking why and how and what about about everything and everyone who crosses your way.
Because its so big, let me try to sketch an example from a very small proseic starting point: the number 32. I have a painful memory of standing in a classroom of flashing cards and stains in front of my eyes, trying to spell out multiplication tables. But despite that (mostly because I count my fingers), I know that eight times four is thirty two.
In an imaginary learning context, the flash cards are gone. The wardens in the classroom are gone, replaced by a slope on a quiet night where the stars seem to do to count, and infinity has a concrete and rich mythical presence. So I lie on my back and imagine a life for the 32th century. A combination of eight (a side-end symbol of infinity) and four (of the four elements) constitutes the combined and stable combination of thirty-two. I imagine their colors, their own proposal of infinity when turned sideways - like three mountains and the beginning of a fourth.
And then I start counting. Eight constellations, each of four stars. Sixteen pairs of two. I remember the stories of constellations. I fill up poems with four punches of eight lines each and drum out rhythms in 4/4 and 2/4 times. And then I explore 32 as a turning point in other thoughts, other disciplines, awareness of myself and those around me. For example, in the Buddhist tradition there are 32 body parts. How many can I count on? And what lies under a philosophy that identifies the body in this way? Or Im looking at languages. Balagtás Tagalog, one of the native languages of the Philippines, replaced by a state-sanctioned combination of Philippine and English, has 32 letters. What letters would I add to the English alphabet? And can I understand the despair of losing my language and the identity that accompanies it?
As philosopher and mathematician Gaston Bachelard writes, imagination is a journey to infinity. Education is the most powerful when the goal is not open focused on what it will achieve for us, but instead, when its an open process that seduces us to search for what we have not been able to see yet. It not only helps us to match the puzzle pieces together, but to make the pieces of the image we have created.
During this trip, we become endless ourselves. And education ceases to be a metaphorical key to a brand new refrigerator and dining room for which you want to be, because you want to be a good consumer, but instead really becomes something thats good for the whole soul.